TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner, D-Mercer, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement regarding today’s Senate budget hearing on the Department of Corrections budget for Fiscal Year 2006:
“From today’s Senate budget hearing, I can tell that the FY 2006 Department of Corrections budget reflects a substantial investment in the public safety of New Jersey. However, much more is necessary to truly reform New Jersey’s most hardened criminals
“In the final FY 2006 budget, I would like to see greater emphasis on education and drug treatment for inmates, to truly cut down on the recidivism rate for those that leave our corrections facilities and return to society, only to return back to the prison system, many within three years of release.
“Studies have shown that a lack of quality education, as well as substance abuse and addiction, are among the primary factors driving supposedly reformed criminals back to crime. However, I don’t feel that the State is going far enough in providing necessary vocational training and addiction treatment to allow inmates to become productive members of society. I think we can do better, and I think we need to explore every avenue of funding available to us to increase the State’s commitment to education and treatment for our inmates.
“Department of Corrections Commissioner Devon Brown indicated that the cost to incarcerate an inmate for one year is approximately $28,000. However, the cost of drug treatment for an addicted inmate is $2500, more than one-tenth the cost of incarceration. Additionally, the cost of education is also a fraction of the cost of incarceration, and many studies have shown that those inmates with a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) are far less likely to recidivate than those without.
“The phrase ‘If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he’ll eat for life” comes to mind, but in the case of incarceration, we have to feed our inmates every day, with the cost borne by the taxpayers.
“At the same time, I think we should pay close attention to the use of overtime in our corrections facilities. While I understand that often, overtime compensation is unavoidable to ensure that staffing levels are met to create a safe prison environment, I think that we have to take pains to avoid possible abuse of the system. We must strike a balance between the need for fairness with our Corrections employees and the priorities of criminal reform, especially in this year’s tough budget conditions.
“I look forward to working with the Senate Budget Committee and Corrections Commissioner Brown to continue identifying potential financial priorities and departmental savings which will push inmate rehabilitation, rather than a self-perpetuating prison system. We must correct criminal behavior, not simply postpone it, and the only way to truly reform career criminals is to give them the tools to succeed in life without crime.”